My dad is a meat and potatoes kind of man. Every meal we had offered some kind of meat. Almost every meal had potatoes in some form. Even though I grew up in one of the largest rice-producing counties in the nation, I did not begin to eat rice regularly or appreciate it until I was nearly forty and had moved away from that county. Even though I grew up with them at nearly every meal, I rarely eat potatoes. As a result, most of the “fresh” potatoes I purchase at the grocery store go bad before I get around to using them.
Such was the result with some baking potatoes I purchased a while back (6-8 weeks). I do like baked potatoes because by the time I am done adding butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon, chives, garlic, etc. etc. etc. the potato is almost indistinguishable. Even though I do like baked potatoes, these had begun to shrivel and future potato plants began to shoot from the various eyes. I almost threw them away, but reference to au gratin potatoes in a recent cooking show prompted me to get creative with old potatoes.
Most of my memories of potatoes au gratin were ones that came from a box.
That’s what I get for growing up in the 1970’s.
I decided to pretend I was on a slow-motion version of Chopped and make a good homemade version of au gratin potatoes from scratch with the ingredients I had on hand.
First, I peeled the potatoes removing the shriveling skin and the growths emanating from each eye.
Then I soaked them in a salt water bring. (In this case for a day because I was busy and did not get back to them). The salt water helped to get flavor into the potato and they firmed back up to about 90% of fresh potato rigidity.
I rinsed each potato. Then using my mandolin adjusted to the thinnest slice possible (in the future I will use the middle setting) I sliced the potatoes and let them soak in a fresh, warm, salt-water bath for a few hours.
During the times the potatoes were soaking and regaining their turgor, I searched online for various au gratin recipes. Combining the various recipes I settled on a sauce that agreed with my taste (and what I keep on hand):
1.5 C half-and-half
Cayenne pepper powder
1 TBS flour
Cheese (in this case Monterey Jack)
As I put the dish together, I began by coating the pan with olive oil. I used a 2-quart casserole (but in the future will go with a larger, shallower pan – took too long to cook through and I was hungry). I layered in a couple layers of potatoes (they were potato-chip thin), then spooned a coating of the sauce. I repeated three times then sprinkled a layer of cheese.
I continued the process until I used all the potatoes. I poured all remaining sauce on top (it soaked through and filled the empty spaces).
Oh – no cheese on top yet.
I covered the pan (a lid or aluminum foil – whichever work best) and cooked it for four hours at 250 degrees (the reason I am using a shallower pan next time). Once the potatoes were done through, I uncovered the pan to get a layer of crisp on the top. As soon as the potatoes were well-browned, I added a healthy layer of grated cheese. Put the pan back in until the cheese is melted and starting to brown.
Making au gratin potatoes takes a bit more time and effort than I put into most dishes that come from my kitchen, but for these results, it is all worth it.